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Top Senate Finance Democrat probes Pfizer's price hikes for fibromyalgia drug

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Top Senate Finance Democrat probes Pfizer's price hikes for fibromyalgia drug

The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, wants Pfizer Inc. to justify the price increases of its fibromyalgia drug Lyrica — a medicine whose costs have significantly risen in the past decade.

In a Dec. 18 letter to outgoing Pfizer CEO Ian Read, Wyden noted that Lyrica's list price rose by 145% from 2009 to 2015. Then in 2016, Pfizer increased the price again by 9.4%. And last year, Pfizer upped the price of the medicine by 19.3%.

Those price increases were "egregious," Wyden wrote.

In 2016 alone, the government's Medicare program, which covers seniors and disabled Americans, spent $2.1 billion for 850,000 prescriptions for Lyrica, he noted.

The Oregon senator wants to know if Lyrica is among the 41 Pfizer drugs whose prices are expected to go up early next year — a confession the New York-based biopharmaceutical giant made in mid-November.

In July, Pfizer pledged to freeze its prices to give President Donald Trump's blueprint to lower Americans' drug costs — unveiled in May — a chance to work.

Most Wall Street analysts, however, predicted Pfizer and a small group of other drugmakers that also froze their prices would not waste any time on boosting the costs of their drugs once the November midterm elections were over.

The word from Pfizer came 10 days after the midterms.

Wyden already was looking into whether Pfizer got any type of an incentive from Trump on the company's temporary hiatus in price increases.

In his letter, the senator called on Pfizer's Read to provide the rationale and the contributing factors for the most recent and potential upcoming price increases for Lyrica.

He also wants the CEO to provide the total 2017 costs for the sales and marketing activities associated with Lyrica, which was initially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004.

In addition to fibromyalgia, Lyrica is approved to treat neuropathic pain associated with diabetic peripheral neuropathy and spinal cord injury, postherpetic neuralgia and as an adjunctive therapy for partial onset seizures in patients ages four and up.

Wyden noted the FDA recently granted Pfizer an additional six months of market exclusivity on Lyrica for the pediatric use.

Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo confirmed that Pfizer had received Wyden's letter and said the company was reviewing it.

But she told S&P Global Market Intelligence that "it would be inappropriate for us to comment in the media ahead of an official response to the senator."

Pricing on Wyden's radar

Wyden has tangled with other drugmakers before and has introduced various bills aimed at forcing companies to lower their prices — an issue he has made clear will remain on his radar going into the next Congress.

Earlier this month, he teamed up with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa to go after biopharmaceutical companies that misclassify their medicines under the Medicaid program, the government's insurance program for low-income Americans.

Their bill was adopted last week by the House in a 400-to-11 vote.

The two men also investigated Gilead Sciences Inc. in 2015 for the pricing of its hepatitis C drugs Harvoni and Sovaldi at $1,125 and $1,000 per pill, respectively — costs the lawmakers said were too high for Americans and the government's healthcare programs to bear.

In June 2017, Wyden introduced a bill, known as the SPIKE Act, that would require manufacturers to publicly report their justification for any significant increases in the list prices.

"The veil of secrecy should be lifted on manufacturers' pricing practices," Wyden said in his letter to Pfizer's Read. He noted if his legislation were enacted, Read would be required by law to provide all of the information Wyden was requesting.